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Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry

Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry

by Alan Dugan, Carl Philips (Foreword by)

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Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry, the winner of the National Book Award, presents the life work of a giant of American letters, tracks a forty-year career of honest, tough artistry, and shows a man at nearly 80 years of age and still at the height of his poetic power. Dugan’s new poems continue his career-long concerns with renewed vigor: the poet


Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry, the winner of the National Book Award, presents the life work of a giant of American letters, tracks a forty-year career of honest, tough artistry, and shows a man at nearly 80 years of age and still at the height of his poetic power. Dugan’s new poems continue his career-long concerns with renewed vigor: the poet’s insistence that art is a grounded practice threatened by pretension, the wry wit, the jibes at the academic and sententious, and the arresting observations on the quotidian battles of life. All the while he peppers his poems with humorous images of the grim and daunting topics of existential emptiness.

Editorial Reviews

"You'll find in my Collected Poems/the palliative answer/to your stupid questions," writes flippantly cynical poet Alan Dugan in his latest collection, which includes all six volumes of his previous poetry plus 30 new works. The Pulitzer Prize–winning poet continues to attract new readers and wide critical acclaim in spite of (or perhaps because of) this amusingly aloof attitude -- Poems Seven won the 2001 National Book Award for poetry.
Robert Pinsky
The poems in Alan Dugan's latest volume, which won the National Book Award for Poetry this year, show a lyrical skepticism, rooted in experience.
New York Times
As far as awards go, this must be the year for the regular guys. Dugan, whose Poems Seven won the 2001 National Book Award, observes the everyday world with a practical, cold- eyed suspicion reminiscent of Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut and Billy Collins. He displays humor and intelligence, cutting out expressionist fat, pretentious erudition and tortured syntax. It's tempting to call Dugan a poet's poet. How else to explain a relatively neglected writer who has enjoyed two National Book Awards (1962 and 2001), a Pulitzer (1962), two Guggenheim fellowships and various other prizes? Dugan has maintained the same wry tone and plain style for the last forty years. Even the book titles are consistently direct: Poems (1961), Poems 2 (1963), Poems 3 (1967). "I've promised that I will not care about things," he writes, "persons, or myself, but I do." In direct, conversational language, Dugan demonstrates a deep concern for life, often saying things we all need to hear.
—Stephen Whited
Publishers Weekly
Dugan's 1961 Poems (that year's Yale Younger Poets winner) turned much of the poetry establishment on its ear: Dugan's irreverent or cynical poems, full of horse sense and completely resistant to gloss, spoke to a community of readers soured on old forms and unattached to new ones. A celebration of spring showed how "the skunk cabbage generates its/ frost-thawing fart-gas in New Jersey and the first/ crocuses appear..." Other poems attacked America's growing involvement in Vietnam, and still others treated sex in memorably, newly flippant ways: "In spring when the ego arose from the genitals/ after a winter's refrigeration, the sergeants/ were angry..." Subsequent books (Poems Two, Poems Three and so on) continued Dugan's project of comic, bleak and formally varied commentary on a dirty, terminally frayed and yet attractive America. Yet Dugan remained aloof from the academy; as a result, his profile gradually dimmed, though he retained an enthused (and amused) core of fans, among them ex-Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. This carefully constructed, funny and sometimes unvarying volume combines all six of Dugan's previous books with a decade's worth of new verse. One of the best of the new poems finds a domestic urgency: "Don't walk barefoot in the bathroom," it advises; "There was someone in the mirror who I killed." "You'll find in my Collected Poems," another new poem explains, "the palliative answer/ to your stupid questions": many readers just might, and the book's nomination as a National Book Award finalist should bring more of them to it. (Nov.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Seven Stories Press
Publication date:
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8.96(w) x 5.48(h) x 1.17(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



* * *


This is this morning: all
the evils and glories of last night
are gone except for their
effects: the great world wars
I and II, the great marriage
of Edward the VII or VIII
to Wallis Warfield Simpson and
the rockets numbered like the Popes
have incandesced in flight
or broken on the moon: now
the new day with its famous
beauties to be seized at once
has started and the clerks
have swept the sidewalks
to the curb, the glass doors
are open, and the first
customers walk up and down
the supermarket alleys of their eyes
to Muzak. Every item has
been cut out of its nature,
wrapped disguised as something
else, and sold clean by fractions.
Who can multiply and conquer
by the Roman numbers? Lacking
the Arab frenzy of the zero, they
have obsolesced: the butchers
have washed up and left
after having killed and dressed
the bodies of the lambs all night,
and those who never have seen blood awake
can drink it browned
and call the past an unrepeatable mistake
because this circus of their present is all gravy.


The wind came in for severalthousand miles all night
and changed the close lie of your hair this morning. It
has brought well-travelled sea-birds who forget
their passage, singing. Old songs from the old
battle- and burial-grounds seem new in new lands.
They have to do with spring as new in seeming as
the old air idling in your hair in fact. So new,
so ignorant of any weather not your own,
you like it, breathing in a wind that swept
the battlefields of their worst smells, and took the dead
unburied to the potter's field of air. For miles
they sweetened on the sea-spray, the foul washed off,
and what is left is spring to you, love, sweet,
the salt blown past your shoulder luckily. No
wonder your laugh rings like a chisel as it cuts
your children's new names in the tombstone of thin air.


The formal, blooded stallion, the Arabian,
will stand for stud at fifty bucks a throw,
but there is naturally a richer commerce in his act,
eased in this instance by a human palm
and greased with money: the quiver in his haunch
is not from flies, no; the hollow-sounding,
kitten-crushing hooves are sharp and blind,
the hind ones hunting purchase while the fore
rake at the mare's flank of the sky.
Also, the two- or three-foot prick that curls
the mare's lip back in solar ectasy
is greater than the sum of its desiring:
the great helm of the glans, the head
of feeling in the dark, is what spits out,
beyond itself, its rankly generative cream.
After that heat, the scraggled, stallion-legged foal
is not as foolish as his acts: the bucking and
the splayed-out forelegs while at grass
are practices: he runs along her flank
in felt emergencies, inspired by love to be
his own sweet profit of the fee and the desire,
compounded at more interest than the fifty in the bank.


    Drinking Song: An Indoor Plant: A Dull Life

The person of this plant with heart-shaped leaves
and off-shot stalks, bending at each knee,
is built of dishwater, cigarette smoke, no
sunlight, and humus mixed with peat-moss. Like
genius, it survives our inattention and the dark,
potted like myself indoors, and goes on growing.
It grows for no known cause that I can find
outside itself, by means of mumbling, flowering
no flowers, no flowers, none for all these years.

Since imagination has the answer to these noes,
imagine it as one of those survivors in the old
swamps, shadowed by the grown, light-headed conifers:
fit for the damps, whose gentlest odor seems
corrosive, mightily akin to older, shadowed ferns,
it might have dropped its pollen in the black
water where the pollen swam, and thus become
perseverant in going on in lust, like us,
and mobile through its young. Even now

it does move on in time, too, each elbow putting out
a stalk and leaf in faith and doubt, but no
flowers. Who knows what in hell it loves or lacks
as crawler in arrest. Sometimes to water it,
to notice it, to keep it out of the bureau drawer
and trained to climb perennially around itself,
is piety enough toward indoor plants right now
when one is thirsty, too, for rich lost tastes
and light streaming down through amniotic air.


Balance and survival: it has
a strategy of elbows as
it breaks its hairy knees
while climbing up the wall
and then juts off again,
shaped like a claw.

Even at its top most
broken elbow, it
must turn uprooted from
its heaven in the air,
and, in going down,
not find it on the floor,

either. Compelled to move
anyhow, it always has
an angle and an out
in going nowhere, all
around itself
in faith and doubt.

Meet the Author

ALAN DUGAN’s first book, Poems, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. Dugan has won the National Book Award (twice), the Pulitzer Prize, the Prix de Rome, and an award in literature from the American Academy and the Institute of Arts and Letters. He has been a fellow of the American Academy in Rome, the recipient of two Guggenheim Foundation fellowships, and a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. He died in 2003.

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